Judiciary System and Shariah Law
The IRI occupies the political authority and through the Shariah Law based judiciary system denies Iranians basic rights granted under IRI Assembly laws. Under the IRI version of so-called Shariah Law, un-educated Mullahs, most with only a few years of primary education followed by years sitting on the floors of religious schools, are given a ‘job’ by the government. Elevated overnight to law school classrooms and the benches of court rooms, they play with the lives of Iranian people; vengefully sentencing their opposition to public death. Uneducated, unmerciful, judges, their inhuman souls possessed by longing for victory, cling to power no matter the consequences, practicing the ‘Law of God’ and ruling the court room as brutally as gladiators dominated the Coliseum. One surmises that the judges either do not consider or do not know they are breaking international laws the IRI has signed, feeling no guilt because they do not know the difference and lack the courage to admit they are not infallible. If one asks a blind person what color most roses are, he would probably say red. Asked again to describe red, he would at least have the courage and honesty to say he couldn’t be absolutely sure because he wouldn’t know. Iranian Mullahs seem to have forgotten that no one can be hundred percent sure in their beliefs because we are influenced by our desire to believe. Just because death and severe punishment has become a regular event doesn’t mean it is right. The essence of true and authentic Islam is: always second-guess yourself before taking a life in the name of God! In the IRI court of law, judges are also prosecutor and jury, so sure of themselves they sign lives away in minutes as though they themselves gave it to the person. Regime opponents receive life sentences for alleged crimes the judiciaries rush to prosecute without considering the social and political circumstances the regime has created. Authentic Shiah Islam scholars protest that citing Shariah Law is the radical’s convenient scapegoat excusing human rights abuse. It seems Iranians are just numbers. Most IRI judges don’t study cases prior to entering the courtroom, often picking up files from their offices on the way to court. Less politically inclined individuals might argue the judges do not have the authority to do so before hand. This is the answer the judges would like to hear but in reality they have the authority within IRI laws, regulations and mandates to study files, require evidence and ask for more time before trying a case. Iran is a bully country that ignores its own laws that could benefit Iranian people if the intent were there. Famous attorneys could use their authority and relationships for better causes instead of the pretence and empty words that confuse Iranians about their rights. Many authorities have made a comfortable lifestyle for themselves out of misery of the people. After all, it is their business and nothing personal. According to IRI Assembly laws every prisoner must be “fairly tried’ with their lawyer present but there is no such thing as “reading one’s rights” to the accused when being arrested. Most civil case defendants have no access to a lawyer and for those who do it means very little. In both civil and political courts, the Mullah judges may at their discretion call witnesses, two women equaling one man, to testify against defendants who cannot call defense witnesses and rarely can they afford a lawyer even if given the opportunity. In civil cases, there is no such thing as police evidence processing, CSI, or DNA. Defendants are permitted lawyers but one is not offered or provided at government cost by the judiciary system despite the fact they are mandated by IRI Assembly laws. In political cases, most defendants do not know they are entitled to a lawyer. Those who do know must pay for their own legal representation. The Law is the Law and the fact that prisoners are not informed of their right to legal representation is inhuman and a direct violation of Human Rights occurring regularly in Iranian courts. A large percent of political prisoners from smaller cities go to trial without legal representation. In highly controversial cases, under political pressure, the government of Iran allows the defendant to have a lawyer and may even provide one or more but for the regular political prisoner a lawyer is routinely denied as punishment and to make a bold statement in court by the IRI. Some lawyers, ostensibly representing a political prisoner, side with the IRI. This is an open secret among political prisoners, who complain in their oral statements that their lawyer becomes a player in persuading them to write confessions to calm him down; enabling the IRI to control the prisoner’s state of mind and dissuade followers, family and friends from reaction. The power over political prisoners via their lawyers is a way for IRI to avoid massive protests within Iran to the extreme abuse found in political prisoner’s cases. The political prisoner’s lawyer’s excuse is, their hands are tied and it is in the best interest of their client to confess. These lawyers seldom complain to international organizations about how challenging it is to work with the IRI.
The evaluation of political prisoners is so complicated that it is suggestive of German research on Jews in the death camps. A prisoner entering Evin passes through three separate systems that evaluate him for type of treatment. IRI has created in Evin prison, at the expense of the prisoners, one of the largest psychological programs to determine who is who among its political system. For years, criminal and political prisoners were mixed despite appeals for separate sections. This facilitated IRI in recognizing who should be shuffled where and in aborting new anti-regime activities. A political prisoner released from solitary into Evin Prison’s Intelligence Section 209 and, after evaluation, to section 350 of Sepah Passdaran, goes through psychological evaluation. First step is to figure out how determined this person is to continue to work against the IRI. Evaluations are not done simultaneously in all prisons. Evin, the IRI’s most infamous prison, seems to be the leader in devising strategy to break down prisoners and other prisons follow its lead Prisoners in Evin categorize the IRI system in one of three ways: 1- ‘Monfaael’, (Dormant). 2- ‘Bel-Goveh’ (Potentially hazardous to the IRI’s existence). A possible change can be effected but will take time. 3- ‘Belfe-al’ (Active participant against the regime no matter the consequences to the particitant.) Must be broken down individually, whatever the method.
Iranian prisons are generally different from US or European prisons. Prisoners are kept in individual cells only when in solitary confinement. Cells are a series of doorless rooms opening to a ward. Each ward houses 120-250 prisoners, depending on how busy the IRI has been arresting people. Cells are approximately 4 x 6 meters or 9 x 12 meters with five to twelve prisoners in each. Often, there are fewer beds than the number of prisoners, forcing some to sleep on the floor. The kitchen and bath are sanitized by the prisoners themselves at their own expense. Many political prisoners, the majority of whom are educated, elite Iranians, such as journalists, are purposely held among the most dangerous criminals whom the IRI reportedly uses to intimidate or attack them with knives to keep them quiet. By prisoner’s accounts, conditions in other prisons are so bad that Evin now sounds like a four star hotel. Evin lives up to its reputation of being more dangerous for the mind than for physical torture. Raji Shahar Karaj seems to have won the heart of IRI for physical torture. It is much larger and has places where one can be killed in broad daylight and no one will notice for days. Only in Evin prison during the last few years has there been distinction between criminal and political records. Evin is the IRI headquarters for decision and assigning prisoners depending on their severity of resistance. There is no united voice for prisoners. Everyone seems to be doing something, often in opposite directions, competing for attention. Among true fighters for Human Rights, it has been forgotten that the mission is to expose the system and get relief for real political prisoners, not for petty criminals who deserve none. The chaos of Human Rights activists and mismanaged information has prevented many from building a case based on real intelligence. The IRI has turned political prisoner’s cases into a strategy to silence youth’s voices When the best of Iranian youth are introduced into the prison systems due to lack of support they find it extremely difficult to hang on to the authentic sprit of the fight for which they were arrested in the first place. Youths kept in this toxic environment are physically abused and many are raped. Young men and women fighting not only for freedom for Iran but to keep their dignity are silently fighting a losing battle. Through psychological evaluation, IRI is well aware of the state of mind of the abused youth in prison and are confident this generation will never again become a threat to its existence. To further complicate matters, orthodox Iranians societal standards disdain youths with a prison reputation, especially if they have been sexually abused. Parents who do not approve of their young men and women’s involvement in politics exert strong pressure on them to simply stay away from politics. After their release, abused ex-prisoners are frequently isolated in an attempt to ignore, hide or forget their ordeal. When they get out of prison, the lingering shame of having been in that environment and the pressure of society has resulted in reports of an abnormal suicide rate among youngsters battling severe depression. More than coincidentally all across Iran, every time a crime happens in prison, like a movie cliché, guards are conveniently looking away. Homicides in Raji Shahar and Evin prisons, two of the most well-known prisons in Iran, are not reported to the UN, Amnesty International or any other organization. Journalists are not allowed to investigate and elaborate in the US media nor is there enough interest among Europeans to investigate these crimes at the International level. This kind of news does not get out of prison in print. It leaks out through political prisoners who have nothing to lose. To protect themselves, prisoners create coalitions and watch each other’s back. When a mole has difficulty breaking a prisoner, the prisoner is transferred to another city. This means families are unable to meet with loved ones behind the glass for 15 minutes once a weeks or in person for 30 minutes once every two weeks, alternating male and female family members. Prisoners must fill out forms and sometimes wait up to six months for permission by the head of prisons. Visitation rights are frequently denied as a form of punishment.
International Human Rights organizations frequently report political prisoners going on long hunger strikes, using their body as a last resort to gain rights to be treated as a human being. Sadly, there is seldom any gain for the political prisoners themselves but this is a smart method used by the IRI from Khatemi’s time to establish their members as legitimate political prisoners before exporting them to the West, using international organizations to clean up any questions about their legitimacy. The UN officer from Geneva reported that despite repeated requests, Mr. Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, has not been permitted to visit Iranian prisons since 2003.
Amnesty International’s London office stated that it has not been allowed to visit Iran since 1979. The senior officer from London Amnesty International said, “We don’t quite know who is who and which stories are accurate. We rely on Human Rights activists to tell us.” According to prisoners from Raji Shahar, high ranking European and Russian officials visited the prison in the summer of 2007 but each time the political prisoners were locked away and not allowed to seek help.
There are fewer reports of prisoners being regularly beaten than in the past. Instead, the regime uses smart ways to make them suffer even more than by physical torture. Political prisoners with serious conditions, such as heart or kidney problems, often become victims of vicious behavior and are tortured by withholding their medication, either inside prison or at the prison gate. The many prisoners with medical conditions suffer most. To see a doctor or dentist outside the prison requires permission of the court through authorities such Supreme Court judges or Saeed Mortazavi, the famous head of judiciary who had a hand in the death of Zahra Kazemi. The final decision often lies on the desk of Sahrioodi and it may take months, if not years, to leave prison to seek treatment. Prisoners have access to a prison clinic, which offers very little help, on an emergency basis. There are very few doctors in Iran working with prison systems. There are some experienced doctors but generally those on shift are young interns. Any complicated health care must wait until a qualified doctor becomes available. According to prisoners, many doctors working in prisons the past several years have quit because they are behind in receiving payment for their service. There is at least one open investigation by the IRI against a surgeon who worked in IRI prisons for years, allegedly committing crimes against prisoners and getting away with it. According to prisoners, the surgeon removed healthy kidneys from prisoners and offered them for sale online. Most of the victims were non-political, illiterate and uneducated about their rights enabling his criminal acts to continue for years before being discovered. Prisoners from Raji Shahar report there are fewer than a dozen sets of sterilized dental equipment for hundreds of prisoners. Most prisons have no access to dentists at all. In those that do, such as Evin and Raji Shahr, dentists are not there to fill prisoner’s teeth but only to extract them. This is also common practice in small cities and villages where unregulated dentistry has survived from ancient times. Dentists are still using equipment from the 1920s when needles were sterilized in boiling water and reportedly routinely use the same unsterilized needle on multiple patients. Prisoners in both Evin and Raji Shahar Karaj are denied oral pain relief medication on the grounds they are narcotics and can be used for homicide. On the other hand, pain medication is for sale by the guards. An example of corruption in the judiciary system and direct violation of prisoners right is: when antibiotics are needed, the clinic frequently claims to be out of antibiotics but ‘hint’ they are available for a price. The corruption is so blatant that prison authorities from top to bottom benefit from it as prisoners suffer. There are reports by prisoners that if the doctor prescribes 30 antibiotics only 10 are given to the prisoner. The remainder are reserved until the pharmacy receives its next shipment and then are sold either inside or outside the prison. Drugs sold outside frequently re-enter the prison at prohibitive prices and contaminated by careless handling. The IRI runs the prisons like a guinea pig laboratory left to rot. There is no testing for sexually transmitted diseases and no medication provided for victims of AIDS, which seems to be on the rise among prisoners. Addiction to various narcotics among the prison population seems to be a case of someone purposefully allowing it to happen. Prisoners witness the sale of drugs in their rooms and hallways and needle users pass out in the hall ways. For needle users, AIDS is a death sentence waiting to happen. To my knowledge, no testing for AIDS is offered to the IRI prison populations and there is no demand for testing by any intentional organization. It is distressing to hear the overwhelmingly majority of prisoners have some sort of skin infection due to lack of hygiene and rodent infestation. Prisoners have to buy their own shampoo and soap and cook and clean their wards as if they were prisoners in Nazi Auschwitz Camps.
There are no psychiatrists, clinical psychologist, physical therapists or rehabilitation provisions for prisoners or their families. Inside prison or out, there is no help from UN or Amnesty for families of political prisoners either. During the time they are kept behind bars, it is not just the prisoners being punished but also their family, especially the children, who suffer severe depression and emotional challenges seeing their fathers behind bars and their mother trying to explain. Lack of funds has pushed the families of political prisoners to the edge of poverty. There is no focus on children of political prisoners who are as much a victim as their fathers. Future generations are serially victimized. There are demonstrations and paper work suggesting everyone cares about the children of political prisoners, but there is no real relief and strategy for help from outside sources.
Although prisons have heating systems, the heat in most prisons is shut off much of the time. Wind and cold air enters the cells through small broken windows located near the ceiling. Prisoners are not given warm clothing. They have to buy their own blankets and jackets. Even though they are sick, delivery of winter clothing is stopped by the guards, not only to solicit bribes but to mentally torture prisoners. In summer there is no air conditioning. The heat and humidity is unbearable, particularly in southern prisons, and for prisoners with high blood pressure or heart and respiratory problems it is a living hell. Prisoners have to buy ice if they want cold drinking water. Those who can afford it can buy small refrigerators and televisions at the local prison store. They must pay for electricity to operate the appliances and leave them behind if transferred to another prison
Much of the prison population across Iran is malnourished. They are fed just enough inexpensive food to keep them alive. Those who can afford it may buy from the prison grocery store and cook their own food. In solitary they simply have to put up and survive with what they are given. Prisoners complain about lack of vitamins in their diet. Due to the severe conditions in which they have been kept, some for years, if released they have to come up with funding to get help to recover.
A healthy body is the key to a healthy mind. That doesn’t seem to be important for IRI. No sports or organized sports club are permitted in prison. There are a few volleyballs and soccer balls which prisoners can use to exercise on their own but much of the population spends their one hour of fresh air time sitting around the walls, smoking cigarettes and chit-chatting politics. The Raji Shahar exercise yard for political prisoners is barely 500 square meters to accommodate at least four hundred prisoners. The general population has access to fresh air daily from 9.30 to 4.00 P. M. When a prisoner is in solitary they can only have 20 minutes fresh air daily and are denied phone calls.
Despite its large population, for a young country such as Iran there is very little job training for non-political prisoners, and none for active political prisoners, to prepare youths for life after prison. Education and job training is provided only after they sign agreements with the system and are transferred from anti-government sections to the less vocal, so-called “Darl Al Qoran” in Raji Sharh. This is the prison population most diplomats visiting Raji Shahar prisoners see. These prisoners are kept in relatively good conditions, perhaps better than most Iranians can afford
Even though education up to grade 12 is permitted and promoted by the Education and Cultural Office, there are limitations as to who is allowed to attend. Prisoners without grade 12 are sometimes completely illiterate, willing to take lessons and are not particularly virulent against the regime; having been helped to get their grade 12. So far, it is believed this has been limited to Evin and Raji Shahar, there being no credible evidence it is practiced in prisons across Iran. Prisoners contend that statements by a few political prisoners that they attended university from their prison camp, if true, are isolated, favored concessions, perhaps affected by confused interpretation. of law in their case. IRI laws prohibit active prisoners from attending university. It also prohibits inactive prisoners from speaking against the IRI. If they do, phone privileges are denied. Reports that prisoners are permitted to criticize the regime from jail are simply too good to be true. The IRI is not that tolerant of its opposition. Payame-Noor University is reportedly where most prisoners attend outside classes. However, there have been a few exceptions made in the past two years by IRI in Raji Shahar and Evin prisons when prisoners have been allowed to attend other universities.
Regarding communication with the outside world, there have been misleading statements that a few prisoners carried cell phones, took pictures or did media interviews right under the nose of IRI without being able to monitored or stopped. Research and documented evidence establishes that, unless these individuals were granted special permission, having cell phones and media access is something out of fiction exploited by the IRI team of expert propagandists. The cover of political prisoners with granted rights is perhaps the best strategy that IRI has found to obtain information from the US and, at the same time, remain its enemy. The fixation of the outside world with the “Ready Made Leader out of Iranian Prison” to become the next Nelson Mandela, improve Iran/US relations and lead Iran to the back door of Freedom is nothing but a sweet dream of those who want to believe it. According to research and interviews with political prisoners and their families for more than a year, the IRI has figured out it would have been easier for their promotion of “Freedom” to simply lobby US politicians through their NGOs in Washington and “ endangered journalists” through reputable associations unknowingly used by “ex-prisoner” Iranian agents. This is the most publicized yet safest way to get an agent out of Iran right under US Federal Agent’s noses and allows placement of moles in controversial positions to obtain information, through trust and loop holes, about the US from high political sources. The situation resembles World War II when beautiful women masqueraded as girlfriends of German officers to provide safe cover for the partisans. Some of these well trained individuals are the kind of smart that is not interested in the well being of others but in their own skin, making them even more dangerous. These pseudo journalists seek US politician’s attention and through clever planning get a full media circus by misrepresenting their ability to attend university directly from Evin prison. Their account certainly sounds like a different prison than that described by other prisoners. Most prisoners have no access to the outside world and never see or hear anything other than IRI printed material. They are allowed a TV only if they can afford to buy it at highly inflated prices from the prison store. They have to pay for electricity used and cannot take the TV with them if moved to another cell or prison. Consequently, few rooms have TV sets. They are only allowed religious books and newspapers published by the regime. They have no radio or internet link to outside. They cannot write and send letters but can dictate a letter over the telephone, with the knowledge it is being recorded. In the case of Iran & Its future.org, they were given notice they are recorded. They cannot write books, publish outside prison or use publisher to print books. They have no access to any library, other than religious books permitted by prison authorities, references or on-line E-books. They are allowed to write their thoughts on plain pieces of paper at the risk of it falling into unfriendly hands but cannot pass it to the outside world without permission. They are not permitted to take pictures. All wards, corridors and rooms are monitored 24/7 by on site cameras. Pictures of political prisoners surfacing in books and on the internet are from cell phone cameras or were taken when they are out of prison for an authorized rest period. They can draw or paint using art materials sent from home, as long as it doesn’t include sharp objects. There is a lot of talk about anyone being able to get information out of prison. That might be, but there is heavy bribing involved. Unless the person behind prison bars is wealthy, it is simply an exaggeration of fact that every political prisoner is able to freely get information out of prison. Expatriate Iranians have heard or seen political prisoners on Voice of America. VOA is a US government entity. Why would the IRI that has such animosity for America allow prisoners with no outside help to freely express themselves on VOA? According to prisoners this is a rare opportunity that comes only by arrangement. We are not in touch with any prisoner claiming to be an opponent of the IRI who is able to freely jump to radio from their prison cell.
Political prisoners are allowed five to ten minutes for phone calls between 8 A.M. and 6 P.M. Tehran time. Phone privilege must be arranged daily and are affected by the number of prisoners signing up and who they call outside Iran. A middleman arranges calls with Intelligence, gives the list to the guard and prisoners stand in line to make their call. Fridays are the slowest days. Someone wanting to speak for a longer period of time can request up to one hour, borrowing or buying time from another prisoner. Allowance varies from prison to prison. The prison head is the law inside prison and may limit privileges. However, there is absolutely no such thing as midnight calling from prison for the convenience of a show in LA or VOA News, unless it is on cell phone. And, of course, there are no cell phones unless it has been arranged and granted for a reason to those who have a relatively good relationship and are cooperative with prison guards and authorities. Prisoners are not denied phone privileges as often as people like to believe because this is where IRI gets raw information. Everything is listened to and recorded by IRI Intel so it can be used against the prisoner to extend a sentence or to make her/his life hell with no spare moment. Most often, those who call from prison are not aware of this or have made arrangements with the system. The questions asked by some are suspicious and the information each individual receives is analyzed by the regime to know ‘who is who’ of their opposition outside Iran. If we want to believe this is just a bold statement, readers need to know all the land lines in Iran are bugged and all cell phones, except advanced satellite phones, are widely known to be controlled. When a prisoner is uncooperative, phone privilege may be revoked. Cooperative prisoners are routinely granted longer conversation with radio or TV shows by the prison head. Some prisoners favored by the IRI Intel in the last few years are known to carry cell phones and have internet access in their room. In return they must leak information about political prisoners to the prison intelligence office.
Prisoners who speak up know there can be retaliation. This is the chance they take to educate others. Prisoners have spoken against many issues, including the drug gangs in prisons throughout Iran who are used as executors of IRI’s orders. In the summer of 2007, a prisoner was discovered dead at 6 A.M by prisoners in Ward 15 in Raji Shahar. Those who knew the victim deduced from his face that he suffocated. This crime was completely covered up by the IRI and the autopsy reported, “the prisoner died of illness”, with no further explanation. Retaliation is the reason, when a mole comes out of Iran, people question the motives of other political prisoners as to why they remained quiet. I certainly had the question myself until I grasped the gravity of the political prisoner’s dilemma. They can get killed when they share their information and no one would hear them.
To the dismay of many, not all Iranian political prisoner celebrities heard on VOA, PBS and other Iranian opposition outlets, invited by politicians and gathered in Washington think tanks, are genuine. Ghazal Omid was introduced to one of these moles through a Washington political figure at a AEI meeting. She has become an outspoken critic of IRI through her writings condemning its Human Rights violations, frequent Fox appearances and has written her own life story in her book, Living in Hell. She learned a painful lesson. She never forgets and now understands clearly the IRI’s role in using Human Rights and the role of fake opposition created by IRI to protect it. She has analyzed the regime’s lobby system in Washington DC by researching the NGO’s and ‘people in the business of opposition’ through Iran & Its future.org team of expert analysts and researchers.
*Ghazal Omid has been unofficial spokesperson for 19 Iranian political prisoners for nearly a year and a half. This report is based on her research, interviews, documented emails, audio files and other evidence gathered through direct contact with prisoners in Evin and Raji Shahar prisons and their families The prisoners risked their lives to provide a rare kind of intelligence, allowing better understanding of the IRI.